Last evening I attended a book launch because I had to. It was a family affair as the author is my first cousin nineteen years younger to me. I usually enjoy family gatherings and events such as this gives me an opportunity to see my people once again and have some tea with them. But the author and his books, I do not seem to follow. My nephews and nieces who are closer in age to the author in question were squealing with excitement as he made a video presentation of his work and they clapped loudly as the show ended. I was sad because I could not partake in the joy of the ceremony. This extraction of bits and pieces from the embeddedness of their context and using them as ingredients for something quite different is anathema to me. I always get repulsed whenever such re-mixes happen. Hence with much sorrow I realized that I was old, pretty old, and in fact very old.
I have always bought books of this young author and I have tried reading them in all sincerity and always have read through them. But I have not been able to absorb a single sense of the book, never understood why the story was being told at all. I seemed to be drawn into a world where everything is present. There are our epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, familiar children’s novels like Thakurmar Jhuli, pirate tales, jungle stories, old classics of Robert Louis Stevenson, mixed with Sherlock Holmes, Barbara Cartland, some familiar Hollywood Classics and popular American television shows, some war of worlds stuff, some disasters like the Titanic and of course with Sukumar Ray’s imageries of deadly demons used as batter in the single space of the novel. These diverse cuisines are hurriedly swallowed in an anxiety that someone else may grab them before he does and then thrown up in a violent bout of indigestion. The entrails of the regurgitation reveal chunks of undigested food, which is what I feel, whenever I read the author. But for the younger readers this seems to be the formula.
As I emerged out of the launch I had to walk a large part of the distance back home because the autos were running full capacity and had no space to accommodate me. I relished this brief break from transport and used the walk to ruminate on myself. The problem lay in me and not the author; he belonged to the era, I was past it. The crux of the difference between me and the author rested in the way he and I seemed to have consumed our literature. For me the world of epics or the terrible tribulations of helpless children of Thakurmar Jhuli, the tales of Alice’s wonderland, the never ending braids of Rapunzel, and later Sherlock Holmes, the pirates and prisoners were all self contained worlds. The protagonists of these stories remained set permanently in their contexts and hence when I read of Kim, or Tarzan, I belonged to the jungle; when I read Homer, I lived in Greece, when I wept with Arun, Barun and Kiranmala, I too had a relative who would become a blood drinking demoness by night; I was an Englishman walking through gas lit dark roads in London when I read Sherlock Holmes and with Byomkesh Bakshi, I came to live in a Keyatola flat. Were Alice to meet Cinderall, or Tarzan come home to Ulysses, it would be a catastrophe, no less than were it to snow in Delhi or the ice caps of the poles grow the cacti of Sahara Desert. For me, the world had to be tidy and tied to geography, and later to its politics, history and society. This is why I read books not only as a chain of events, or for its characters but also for its context. During my childhood, we all were like this; our spaces were fixed, time was finite, and story forms regular. Not so for this author. The question to ask is why.
When the author was a child and wrote his first essay in school, his mother proudly told my mother that he had reversed the hare and tortoise story because in his story the hare won and not the tortoise. I gasped, but what is the purpose of the story then? The tortoise had to win because that way the premise of the story is nullified. If the hare which is the favourite also wins in the end, then what is the point? I thought that such a story that opposes the well known myth is an attention attracting strategy that children forget when they turn into adults. But now that the cousin is a celebrated author for children he seems to have emerged out of the same tortoise hare story with the reverse end !!! Throughout his works, familiar myths are broken, their closures prized open, elements snatched from their locations in narratives and presented randomly. The effect of it all is something similar to the one that one gets by continuously switching television channels. I suddenly seemed to know why I never got any sense from the books the author wrote, because what sense can a person derive from channel switching?
I thought of myself when on some evenings I need to switch off. In the pre-television days I would take a book, read or unread, on any subject it may be, and follow its lines as it flowed logically sentence after sentence. My mind would relax because it would cohere. For the same reason, our people watch so much of the formula film; it is as relaxing as going to the gym, entertaining because of the exhaustive experience and which in turn is so because of the logical closure. The closure is the form, its formula. It has anticipation because it must always close; it is new because it closes new kinds of content. Books were our preferred source of entertainment because of the strong logicality and which in turn was so because the subjective elements of the agent moved in reckoning with the objective constraints, removing these obstacles towards a grand equilibrium.
In the works of this author, there is no equilibrium to be attained; the movement is from chaos to chaos and into a final chaos that no individual can plan to control. Universe is saved by some Providence through the accident of unplanned and uncoordinated actions. The characters just move about following instructions robotically of a very powerful individual who plans to take control of the entire world. This individual, who seems like Osama Bin Laden is not necessarily the villain; he is just a contender for a fetish that could be a stone, which is the source of real power. The characters are not interested in the ideology of their mission; they seem to only work for a job. This dissolves the importance of a goal and consequently of goal-directed actions. Hence there is no direction to their actions and the fights, chases or shoot-outs look like some frenzied activities rather than genuine actions for goal-fulfillment. It is not an accident that all the characters in the author’s books are children of celebrities, or recruits of some very large, albeit secret order. When individuals have little scope to achieve things through talents and actions, all they can do is to launch themselves in the right pads and preserve their social class. In the works of the author, the characters are thus running very hard only to preserve themselves, as any slip may cost them their lives in the highly exaggerated world of the fiction and their social statuses and positions in the empirical reality they inhabit. This expresses a secret fear of loss, loss of livelihood, loss of social status and loss of lifestyle. This fear makes the generation of the author contemptuous of anything which is certain; no wonder then he breaks all forms of certainties that emerge in his life as myths, epics, tales, fables, and even poetry. There is a sense of irreverence, which is to manage his own sense of foreboding of things to come, which the author knows will not work to his advantage.
What kind of reader then are my nieces and nephews who love their young uncle so much? These children too suffer from the same sense of uncertainty about their lives and unfortunately the little experiences they have had of their lives, they cannot be otherwise. I looked back on my childhood in which security and certainty were never wanting. Our grandparents and parents had steady jobs that they were in no fear of losing and we knew that success could be ours if we worked hard. But today’s generation needs neither intelligence nor diligence but smartness. This smartness is not to go past obstacles but to hoodwink the opposition by disturbing cognitive coordinates. Language and publicity are the two instruments to do this. This is why mixing and confusing of established categories of thought is the instrument of this generation. Shah Rukh Khan’s performance as Devdas and Don were mimicry of the doyens of cinema who had performed these feats; the author also tries to mimic a whole set of classics so as to alter our recall them. Just like Shah Rukh Khan’s remakes, the author’s categories also destroy our recall of classics. At the core of this perversion lies a death wish, an uncomfortable realization.
At the launch function my cousin introduced us to a rather young adult, an authoress at eighteen. She sat there in shorts lifting her fat legs across a chair trying to exhibit her thighs and hoping people ogle at her shapeless pile of flesh. When I asked her about her work she said that her protagonist was a young nerd, a girl who suddenly realizes that she always wanted to kill people. Death, and murder are the attributes of the protagonist !!
I think that we should urgently look into this generation, generation that produces more terror strikers than inventors, many more hackers than computer programmers, it produces amazing performers but little. Much of the creativity in this generation is only to duck and pass the buck rather than to take on the obstacles with a sense of an agency. No wonder then that this generation is so ahistorical, reading history as a costume drama and not as the premise of our thought categories and institutions.
As I walked down past some bookstores on my way home I peeped in to see their collection. I could see shelves still full of those works that used to circulate among us in our childhood as best sellers. These authors and such works were not all lost then and when the younger generation wanted their fill of genuine entertainment they probably read these classics. But when the younger generation wanted their own politics of supercilious positioning against all things certain and hence against them, they probably went to authors like my cousin.